The best web video is personal

This WaPo story on how presidential candidates are using YouTube is interesting for what it says about online video.

Several times a week, Kotecki, a self-described “political geek” turned YouTube celebrity, advises presidential candidates on their campaign videos — from his dorm room at Georgetown University. Equipped with a three-year-old laptop, a $60 Web camera and a $30 microphone — and a small, dusty desk lamp as a light source — the 21-year-old dishes out free, unsolicited suggestions (and the occasional compliment) to the candidates.

Kotecki has one recurring message to the candidates and their expensive media advisers: “The Web isn’t TV.” As in, Web viewers don’t expect to be spoken to, they expect to be spoken with. It’s a passive experience vs. an interactive one.

Other students of the genre have similar advice.

“Look at how the candidates are talking in their videos. With a few exceptions, they’re mostly looking sideways, not talking directly to the camera,” said Jeff Jarvis, who heads the interactive journalism program at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism and started, a blog dedicated to watching the campaign through YouTube. “The important thing about this medium is it’s very human and intimate. A voter comes across and clicks on you. You should talk to that voter and look at him in the eye.”

Micah Sifry, co-founder of, another blog that looks at how the candidates are campaigning on the Web, also makes a distinction between video online and ads on television. “There’s something fundamentally different about video online,” he said. “Viewers are looking for that rare, unscripted, revealing moment, to get a little sense of who these candidates really are.”

All of this goes right along with what I’ve said many times about the digital media being more personal. Content producers, whether they’re entertainers or news producers, should approach the medium as one-to-one communication, with a voice and a mindset that is direct, casual and has a sense of “I want to have a conversation with you.” That word “unscripted” is important.

Everybody loves OnBeing and most of it’s fans on the professional side talk glowingly about its production values (which are fantastic). But what makes it great isn’t the technology. What makes it compelling and engaging is the personal voice, the unscripted nature, the way it’s edited to enhance the spontaneous feel. The interactive navigation helps underscore the personal, interactive nature of the project. It isn’t just slick. It’s purposeful.

Web video isn’t about the equipment or even the storytelling (stories are great, but not the key point). What matters is the voice.

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